The Spatial Poetry Project uses poetry to teach communities about place naming in their areas, and naming's historical ties to racial and colonial injustices. In participatory and socially engaged workshops, people are encouraged to use poetry to reimagine language on maps and in their public spaces. The poems written in the workshops are all results of both research and creative expression. The workshops invite participants to research the history of place naming in their neighborhoods, through walking, digging up old maps and searching library archives. Attendees are then encouraged to create and reimagine new and more just languages in the landscape.
From writer and artist Hua Xi:
I'm grateful to receive funds from the Awesome Foundation to conduct workshops and other programming with the Spatial Poetry Project. I started this project while studying the history of place names in America, and how they embed and relate to larger systems of oppression. I started teaching Spatial Poetry Workshops as a way to introduce these issues to a wider audience through art and poetry, and to allow people to engage with these topics creatively and on their own terms.
All the names in the landscape have a history and an etymology. When we begin to understand these histories, we can better understand where it is that we are actually living and what it means to live in a city or a state or a country, if it means anything at all. These workshops encourage people to research the origins of place names in their own areas, to question the validity of these names, and to imagine new languages for the landscape.
The AwesomeNYC grant will allow me to purchase supplies for workshops, invite guest speakers, and develop other programming. In the coming year, I plan to bring more of these workshops to NYC, and engage more local artists and poets. It is my hope that these resources can be an entryway into more broad thinking on spatial justice, even if on a minor scale. It is also my hope to build a community through these workshops that can better support local renaming and spatial justice efforts. Sign up for updates on upcoming workshops and opportunities at https://spatial-poetry.com.
Hua Xi is a writer and artist. Their poetry has been published in The Nation, Boston Review and American Poetry Review. They are @huaxixyz on social media.
Poem credits above:
- Sam Lucius (Stratham, NH) outlined place-names in an erasure poem
- Jacqui Viale (Long Beach, CA) combined sculpture, collage, and poetry in her "shadow box" found poem
- Sami Kerzel (Bend, OR) created a street shape poem using topography (or elevation), rather than a birds' eye view
- Savannah Hartje (Springfield, MO) titled this found poem "Life in Broad Brush Strokes"
- Ry Greene (Phoenix, AZ) created an animated collage map investigating the Rio Salado (Salt River) and how it connects to environmental justice
Funded by New York City, NY (December 2021)